When Nicolas Winding Refn won the Best Director award at the Cannes film festival for ‘Drive’ this year, this was sort of a personal victory. I mean, this guy is terrific, and no one seems to have noticed him so far. Refn won acclaim for his Danish drug and violence saga, the ‘Pusher’ trilogy (1996-2005), but his crossover attempts, ‘Bronson’ (2008, with Tom Hardy as the eponymous criminal before the hunk came to the mainstream in ‘Inception (2010)’) and ‘Valhalla Rising’ (2009, with Mads Mikkelsen as the once-eyed killing machine in a mysterious-inscrutable landscape), could not garner mainstream audience.
‘Valhalla Rising’ was one of the favourite pictures of the year, and I still admire the film. Hence, when audience and critics, especially the English-speaking world, embraced the Ryan Gosling starrer car-revenge thriller, a tribute to the good ole’ days of Steve McQueen and all those chase films (‘Bullit’), I was really happy, especially when ‘Drive’ is not really a mainstream film; it breaks most of the rules, and still comes trumps.
The film begins at a slow pace. We see the nameless driver, the protagonist, as Roger Ebert insists on using the term ‘existential hero’, in the tradition of Alan Delon’s ‘Le Samurai’, with a toothpick between his teeth, listening to the game in the radio and working as a getaway driver. We see a smooth chase scene. When the film is called ‘Drive’, you had more or less expected this. Beyond that however, it’s difficult to guess where the film is heading. You see the laconic driver eye a beautiful woman (a muted and wonderful Carey Mulligan) with a equally cute kid, but since this is a Refn film, you know, things are not as simple as it looks.
Then appears Bryan Cranston as the driver’s lame boss, and you know, things are going to go very wrong, very wrong indeed. Cranston stars as the math-cooking chemistry teacher in the hit TV series ‘Breaking Bad,’ and if you have seen the series you know that whatever the Cranston character does in the series always backfires to the worse. Here he has a plan, involving the nameless driver, and as audience, you know, something bad is going to happen.
It does. But the Nicolas Winding Refn film hasn’t begun yet. The film begins at the very moment driver walks up to a strip club, holding a hammer casually in his right hand, the jacket on, and the toothpick between his teeth.
As the blood begins to ooze, there you are, the classic Refn territory. Who needs dialogues when a look can tell you the whole story.